LAN Suite 2003: Secure mail server with firewall, proxy, and fax capabilities
The multifunctional nature of the Swiss Army Knife has kept it popular and useful. Can a similarly broad range of functions be as beneficial for a mail server? LAN Suite 2003 is the latest version of Sofware602’s multifaceted mail server that also features firewall, proxy, and fax capabilities.
For some reason, the term “Swiss Army Knife” is often used in a slightly pejorative way when describing a product, as if to to say that it does a little too much of everything. This is odd because the actual Swiss Army Knife remains a popular and pretty darn useful product after all these years.
In the specialized lingo of software marketing, the word “suite” is basically a synonym for “Swiss Army Knife,” and this is an apt word for the literally named LAN Suite 2003 from Software 602. This Windows-based software is a secure e-mail server that also provides fax server capabilities, plus a firewall, and, heck why not, Internet-sharing proxy and cache services.
It may not make pizza, but it can order one.
Software 602 has bundled all of this functionality into a reasonable 14 MB download that expands to 20 MB when installed. Of course, the mail server component will store messages, at least temporarily, and therefore consumes more disk space depending on user and traffic volume.
The InstallShield Wizard is as routine as usual and is followed with LAN Suite’s own configuration wizard. The wizard walks through a simple setup of the firewall security level, proxy services, Web service, user accounts, and fax server. Configuration in this regard is simple and straightforward, an admirable feat considering it is strung across so many disparate services.
As an e-mail server, LAN Suite has the fundamentals fully covered and is easy to configure. It supports secure protocols and basic spam controls, such as blacklists, but it does not contain any content-based filtering. The advanced configuration interface features a somewhat random layout, but the options are broad enough to not overwhelm.
Note that the Anti-Virus filtering, which can tag, trash, or quarantine messages known to contain spam attachments, is a premium feature included only with versions of LAN Suite licensed for this module. In general, the license costs approximately 60 percent more than the equivalent user license without Anti-Virus support.
Creating users and defining privileges is also basic and straightforward. Users may be given their own Web spaces hosted by LAN Suite’s built-in Web server, and they may also be published to the LDAP server, which can be accessed by other Active Directory applications, such as Microsoft Outlook.
The firewall can be configured either using simple heuristics — for high, medium, or low security — or customized to filter exact types of traffic on specified ports. Consistent with the overall tone of LAN Suite, this module is unsexy but functional and easy to navigate. You can also bind different sets of firewall settings to each network adaptor on the server thereby, for example, filtering internal traffic differently from external traffic.
The proxy server is intended to enable the sharing of an external Internet connection among several machines. This provides the side benefit of caching frequently visited sites, potentially reducing the load on the external connection. That said, proxy servers have always been an awkward way to distribute Internet connectivity, as they require client software (e.g., mail apps and Web browsers) to be configured against the proxy.
The popularity of Network Address Translation, or NAT, for sharing connectivity has proven superior to proxy services in many respects and is less of a headache for administrators. Unfortunately, LAN Suite does not provide NAT functionality, which gives its proxy support a feel of being a few steps behind the curve. LAN Suite does offer DHCP service, which automatically assigns IP addresses to internal machines and is a natural companion to NAT. But the latest versions of Windows and many hardware-based routers popular in connection-sharing environments already provide DHCP services (as well as NAT).
LAN Suite offers remote administration with several levels of security, allowing the system configuration to be modified remotely from a Web browser. This is always a nice touch. A Web-based mail reader is also available so users can read their mail with similar mobility — another necessary, but nonetheless appreciated, feature.
LAN Suite is flexible about its host’s Internet connection and can deal with static, permanent or dynamic, dial-up connectivity. Of course, the fax service requires the presence of a modem and phone line regardless of Internet connectivity. That’s right — did we mention LAN Suite also sends and receives faxes?
Perhaps the negative connotation behind “Swiss Army Knife” comes from the fact that, although convenient in a pinch, a Swiss Army Knife is not particularly strong at any one of its features — box knife, scissors, nail file, and so on.
Much the same can be said about LAN Suite — the product capably covers the basics for each of its somewhat unrelated functions. With multiuser licenses in the hundreds of dollars range, LAN Suite is not a bad value for what it offers. However, when broken down, none of its individual features compete with the cream of the crop in each category — which may be perfectly acceptable for a small organization with moderate needs.
Pros: Easy to install and configure; Able performance across suite; Good value for the price
Cons: Basic functionality in each category; Somewhat haphazard GUI, Lack of NAT service
Reviewed by: Aaron Weiss
Original Review Date: 9/17/2003
Original Review Version: 2003